When Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn was included on Time Magazine’s list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World, it wasn’t lost on Weston Wamp that the accompanying tribute to the conservative politician in the magazine was written by none other than his chief adversary, President Barack Obama. “It proved to me that you can have ideological differences, and still disagree, yet remain close friends. I really believe that must happen if we are going to get our country where it is functional again. We must work together.”
Weston, who has a chance to be the youngest member of Congress if he can defeat incumbent Republican Chuck Fleischmann this fall and then win the general election, told me Tuesday morning that the biggest difference in this year’s campaign and his first try two years ago is the American public’s open disdain for Congress. “People are upset with what it appears that Congress has become and realize that until Republicans and Democrats can come together the gridlock will continue.”
Wamp, who is actively campaigning in a large motor home, laughed at the comical image some of his detractors have used. “The truth is that it is a lot of fun. When I go into small towns in the Third District, they know I’m there! Ironically, it also makes great sense. Instead of driving three hours each way, we sleep over in a parking lot and drink coffee with the local people at 6:30 the next morning. I want to be a presence for people who will know that I’m going to represent them.”
Wamp, who will be the nation’s first member of the “millennial” generation if elected, savors the role. “What that means is that my generation is going to inherit what is happening in Washington right now whether we want to or not. I guess I am representing a lot of voters’ children and grandchildren and their futures. And I must tell you some ‘young blood’ in Washington will be a good thing. A fresh approach isn’t a bad thing.
“When I ran last time I had some people who were apprehensive because of my age. I also had some who were proud of me because I was willing to accept such a challenge at my age. I am learning there isn’t a great difference between the two, and I feel I’ll make a lot of Tennesseans proud if I can represent them. I sure would be proud of it.”
Weston and I talked about his role models and his acquaintances in Washington. “I think Senator Coburn is the biggest reason I believe I can make a difference. He has stood by his values and he’s worked hard for what he believes in but he’s shown the way to be successful is by working with others – often across the aisle – in order to move forward. His friendship with the President began when they were freshmen in Congress and has never wavered – I think that is wonderful.”
That might explain why, when the Republican Party’s elected officials shunned President Obama when he visited Chattanooga last summer, Weston was among those greeting Obama to Chattanooga. “Why would that make anyone mad?” he said yesterday. “I was raised to respect other people and I felt like Chattanooga was honored when the President came here. So … I was really honored to meet him. I hope to meet him again and again,” Weston added with a grin.
“My father (Zach) has had a huge influence on me, obviously, but Dad didn’t let Washington change or warp the way he felt. He is doing well, incidentally, in a business development company. He’s happy and he’s told me he’s glad I still want to help those who live in the Third District in any way I can if I am elected,” he said before leaving early on a three-day sprint in the upper reaches of the district.
“You asked about my heroes in Washington and I’ll tell you one – I adore Bob Corker. I have watched and studied him a lot closer than most people and he’s taken Washington by storm. He’s one of the top ten people in Washington and you know why? He’s rolled up his sleeves and works harder than anybody there. He’s a phenomenal leader and the thought of being in Washington with him would be a dream. He could teach me so much and in return I’d have his back in Congress. Oh, man,” laughed Weston, “he’d be Batman and I’d be Robin.”
Weston worries that the cliquish Republican Party in Congress has stymied its efforts. “We’ve got to get past this us-versus-them belief that it’s the best way to run a country. When I study politicians, one of the biggest differences I see in being effective is the way those who are best at it seem to respect and listen to their peers. Teamwork wins but when the party line is simply to antagonize one another, everybody loses. At least that’s what I think.”
The Oklahoma senator, Coburn, gave Weston tremendous insight for his political goals. “He’s written books and given speeches I’ve read but he has been true to his vision. His constituents adore him – he won by 70 percent of the vote in his last election because he’s what the people want. I’m working real hard to convince people this year I can be the same type of person,” he said.
Have you changed much since your last race? “I’ve learned a lot. I’ve married a girl I love. I’ve tried to learn as much as I can … I still make some mistakes but I’ve never met anyone who didn’t make some when they were trying hard. Then again, I still drive a pickup truck, wear working boots and try just as hard as the first campaign. I learned so much in the last three years – that’s the biggest thing.”
Weston’s goal is that of anyone entering the public sector – to make a difference. “We just announced we’ve raised over $400,000 this quarter. What gets me is people are giving to our campaign who have never, ever made a contribution before. They are sick of what is happening. I ask they give me three months, at the max, after I am first elected, to forge friendships, hire the staff, and build the bridges I need.
“In return I’ll promise a presence that has been missing in Tennessee and I’ll promise pride will return to the Third District,” said Weston, adding, “I don’t think we can wait any longer.”